Connectors destined for use in harsh and even hazardous environments need careful selection, says FC Lane Electronics’ Simon Hammerton.
Increasingly, sophisticated electrical and electronic systems are used in areas such as mining and construction, as well as applications offshore, including wind farms and oil and gas platforms. Naturally, this has prompted the development of specialist cabling and connector products specifically for this type of environment. They are designed to provide totally reliable signal, communications and power transmission in applications as diverse as tunnelling machines, wind turbines and construction plant, across sectors that include steel, shipbuilding and energy exploration.
Connectors destined for this type of application need to be very rugged, reliable and, in some environments, the cable assembly must also be designed to comply with very strict safety standards.
Manufacturers and users of these products and systems need to follow many guidelines when making and specifying cables and connectors for use in these environments. Which guidelines and standards apply varies depending on the location of the equipment.
In locations described as hazardous, for example, products and systems must be specifically designed and tested to ensure that no arcing or sparking can be present within the environment to cause an explosion. These locations are defined as places where flammable gases, vapours or dust can create an environment where an explosion or fire hazard exists. Here, standards have long existed to regulate the design and operation of electrical equipment to ensure that no flammable gas, vapour or dust is able to enter. Sealed against the ingress of these flammable materials, the equipment must also never get hot enough in operation to cause an explosion.
The recently updated Atex directive provides standards and guidelines for both the equipment manufacturer and the user and only Atex certified products can be used in explosive atmospheres. There are several specialist Atex certified connector manufacturers.
For non-hazardous but nevertheless harsh environments, the emphasis moves to the connector’s ability to withstand shock, vibration and liquid ingress. Here buyers and specifiers have a much wider choice of manufacturer.
Lane Electronics supplies all key connector types including circular, filtered, RF, coaxial, sub-miniature, backshells and adaptors and D connectors. It offers connectors suitable for aerospace and test and measurement, as well as insulation displacement connector technologies, PCB connectors, edge connectors and connectors for rack and panel applications. As a franchised distributor, FC Lane represents many different electrical and electronic connector manufacturers including Huber and Suhner, Souriau and Positronic.
Sister company, Weald Electronics, manufactures connectors specifically for harsh environments. Specialising in high performance circular connectors based on the Mil-DTL-5015 and Mil-DTL-26482 specification, Weald supplies many military, industrial and construction equipment manufacturers. It provides a selection of circular bayonet coupling and screw coupling power connectors, filtered circular connectors and cable connectors in a choice of materials and finishes. Specialist ranges target the most demanding environments, including geophysical and offshore applications. Customers can also specify a range of shell sizes, styles, plug and socket contact types and contact arrangements.
Created specifically for use in harsh environments, the heavy duty LMG Brass connector series is described as Weald’s most rugged connector. It is designed around a heavy duty brass shell for use in environments such as geophysical, mining, marine and petrochemical. Thanks to its construction, it is also suitable for those applications where high resistance to vibration and the ingress of liquids, together with a very rugged construction, are key priorities.
LMG Brass circular connectors are environmentally sealed from IP67 to IP69K and come as standard with two to 26 contacts in 19 contact arrangements. Depending on contact size, the connectors can handle up to 60A and can feature either threaded or staple coupling.
Weald Electronics can provide other contact layouts on request, as well as a variety of backshells, and connectors in the range are available as in-line, panel and cable mounting styles in various finishes.
Together with Weald, FC Lane aims to offer a host of solutions for purchasers of harsh environment connectors. The company is committed to quality with IECQ — CECC, BS9000, ISO and QPL approvals and operates a policy of holding large stocks. Finally, if bespoke solutions are required, FC Lane is also franchised to assemble connectors to customer specific requirements.